There was a little statue of St. Rita in the vestibule area of my childhood church. She was almost life size—maybe 4’5” or so. Maybe that was lifesize for her day, what with poor nutrition and fasting and anorexia(1) and all that. Anyway, she was a very pretty lady, from what you could see of her. She had a full nun’s habit, but her face was delicate and slender and she had great ceramic skin. Best of all was a lovely, ruby red gash on her forehead. It was her trademark—a wound that seeped for 15 years because she was so smitten with the Passion of Christ. They used to tell us that story in school: how she would stare and stare at her crucifix and beg Jesus to let her suffer like he did and one joyful (sorrowful) day—kapow!(2) A thorn in the forehead. And 15 years of seeping.(3)
Rita was from one of those far away places and she suffered terribly. Not just from the wound—even before that. Lots of beatings and things, I think. But also lots of forgiveness and redemption. (Checked on that: beatings galore from husband Paolo, whom she married because her parents wanted her to.) Apparently, according to the “Catholic-forum” website “she never lost her faith in God, or her desire to be with him.” But since her life on earth was full of misery and she lived in the 15th century, I can’t see how her “desire” is so especially saintworthy. (I can also think of a few equally deserving latter-day candidates.)
The wound is the best thing about her, I always felt, the thing that makes her different from all the Anns and Bernadettes out there. Every time my friends and I would walk by the statue, we’d touch it, presumably so that the holiness of St. Rita would rub off on us, like blood. I also made wishes on it—prayers I would have called them, but definitely not high-level ones. More like superstitious bits. I can’t remember if any of them came true.
FYI: She is the patron saint (among other things) of infertility, bodily ills, and (surprise) wounds. I’m thinking that if you want your wound to heal, though, she is not the saint to pray to. 15 years is a long time.
If you’d like to buy some Rita products, you can check out http://www.catholic-forum.com/SAINTS/saintr01.htm
And if you can figure out why there’s a St. Rita medallion that features “a figure of a baseball player on the back,” let me know.
(1) For more on this, see Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women
by Caroline Walker Bynam. I haven’t read it since 1998, but I remember it had some very interesting moments.
(2) As you can see from the photo, this was all very sci-fi. There’s an even better photo of the event at http://www.catholic-forum.com/SAINTS/str01com.htm
She doesn’t look quite so pretty, though, which seemed to be a prereq for canonization.
(3) I very irreverently used to think “If she really wanted to suffer like Christ, doesn’t one cut along the forehead fall a bit short of crown of thorns, nails in feet and hands, etc.?” But I quickly pushed these thoughts aside. Who was I to question the saints?